Hope During Airmaggedon

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Booksie Classic

Cancelled flights lead to holiday Airmaggedon in New York. Sharing the misery with new friends might help a young family.

December 24, 2022 – New York City, New York, USA

The floors in JFK Airport’s Terminal 5 lay unvacuumed for a week.  A layer of candy wrappers covered a layer of dirt and mud.  Every hard chair was occupied and waiting passengers were forced to sit on the cement floor and lean against the walls.

The darkening skies outside were clear.  A pre-Christmas storm The Weather Channel called “a once in a generation Snowpocalypse” had swept across the United States, but the snow was gone in New York.  Still, the arrivals/departures display was filled with delayed and cancelled flights as JetBlue struggled to get its planes and flight crews to the correct cities.

Jared and Kristi Sanders camped across from Gate 8.  Their two-year-old daughter, LeeAnn, remained surprisingly quiet in her stroller.  Kristi was five months pregnant and alternated between sitting and standing to relieve her aching back.  The Sanders’ were at JFK for a layover between North Carolina and Utah.  They spent the week before Christmas with Kristi’s family and were eager to return home.

Jared was anxious about flight delays, but Flight 71 to Salt Lake City was listed as on time, departing at 7:20 pm.  The first sign of trouble did not appear until the plane scheduled to arrive at Gate 8 was late.

“Probably push us back a little,” Jared said to Kristi.  “But once they get in, they’ll pull everyone off quick and start boarding.”

Jared kept watching for a plane to emerge from the darkness.  None did.  Then he heard an announcement on the overhead speakers.

“The departure gate for Flight 71 to Salt Lake City has been moved to Gate 2.”

“Shall we move closer?” Kristi asked her husband.

“Probably.  They must be ready to board and we don’t want to miss it when they call our Zone.”

The Sanders’ packed up their bags and stroller and pushed through the wall-to-wall crowd at the end of the terminal.  As they got closer to Gate 2, there was a noticeable drop in temperature.

“The heat must be broken over here.  And look, they left the door open to the skybridge,” Jared said to Kristi.

“We can’t stay here.  We’ll freeze,” Kristi replied.  “We’ll just have to pay attention when they start boarding.”

The Sanders’ returned to Gate 8 to find their abandoned chairs were taken.  With no other seats available, Kristi dropped to the floor next to a store selling drinks and snacks.

“At least I saw a plane at Gate 2.  That’s a good sign we’ll be leaving soon,” Jared said hopefully as he slumped to the floor next to Kristi.  He watched on his phone as the JetBlue App showed the departure time for Flight 71 pushing back every 20 minutes.  “What could be the hold up?  The plane’s right there.  We should be getting on,” Jared said in frustration.

At 9:20, the agent at Gate 2 finally made a clarifying announcement on the intercom.  “For those of you waiting for Flight 71 to Salt Lake, we’re waiting for our pilot.  We’ve heard he’s coming in on a flight from Boston.  As soon as he lands, we’ll get you boarded and you can take off.”

Jared and Kristi smiled grimly at each other.  What could they do other than wait?  They changed LeeAnn into her pajamas and sung her usual “go to sleep” songs.  LeeAnn was distracted by the constant noise of gate announcements and the Christmas music blaring from the overhead speakers.

Jared kept his eye on updates for the Boston flight bringing the pilot.  Every 20 minutes, a new delayed time was posted.  By 10:30, the gate agent made another announcement in a frustrated voice.

“Please don’t ask me about what’s happening with the Boston flight.  No, it hasn’t left yet.  I don’t have any more information than you do.”

Kristi and LeeAnn tried to nod off to sleep despite the surrounding noise, chilly temperature, and their uncomfortable sitting positions.  By midnight, the crowd in the terminal began to thin out.  Those waiting for the Salt Lake flight recognized each other and there was a combined relief when phone updates showed that the Boston flight was in the air.  Jared imagined getting home some time in the very early morning and flopping into his bed.

At 1:30 am, Christmas morning, the flight from Boston arrived at its gate.  As passengers disembarked through the skybridge, a notification popped up on Jared’s phone.  Flight 71 to Salt Lake City was cancelled.

Jared was not used to late nights and until the cancellation notice his brain was barely idling.  He looked around to see a mob of people abandoning the departure gates.  He turned to the nearest person and asked, “What are we supposed to do?  Where is everyone going?”

“The gate agents disappeared.  The only people left to talk to are down in luggage claim.  Everyone’s going down there.”

Jared looked at his dazed wife.  “I guess we should follow them.”

The Sanders’ gathered up their stuff and hurriedly pushed their stroller into the mass of flight refugees.  By the time they reached the baggage claim area, a 200-person-long line had formed.  Jared found the end of it.  A feeling of complete helplessness poured over him.  He was exhausted and in an unfamiliar city.  His wife and child needed a bed and he could not provide one.  He did not know when or how they would get home.  As he stood in the line next to Kristi, he scanned his phone for alternate flights to Utah.  Everything was full.

“What do we do?  What do we do?” Jared repeated deliriously to himself.

“I think we just have to wait and talk with someone,” Kristi answered in a hollow voice.

For the first time since claiming a spot in the line, Jared paid attention to the people in front of him.  A twenty-something girl and her boyfriend were talking to another young guy holding skis and wearing a knit cap.  All three of them were loudly swearing about being on the flight to Boston and how the pilot who was supposed to fly to Salt Lake jumped off the plane at the last minute.  Jared did not like how they were swearing in front of his daughter, who was fidgeting in her stroller.  He did not like the sloppy, scraggly beards on the guys or the tattoos on their arms and necks. 

In front of the young couple and the skier, an older couple and their adult son were shouting in Italian accents.  They also complained about the Boston flight and how the cowardly pilot had ditched everyone.  “It doesn’t make sense.  We should have never gotten on that plane.  JetBlue lied and stranded us here.  They’re going to pay!”

Behind Jared, another middle-aged couple and their teenage daughter were scrolling on their phones and considering taking a train out of New York.  Behind them, a man in an ugly Christmas sweater was pushing his wife in an airport wheelchair.  They both looked shocked and confused.  Jared tried to ignore everyone as he grabbed Kristi’s hand and whispered everything was going to work out.

By 2 am, the line had only moved a few steps.  Jared encouraged Kristi to find a place to sit down and maybe sleep.  There was no reason for her to stand.  She disappeared with LeeAnn and the stroller.

“So where are you from?” one of the young guys in front of Jared asked.

“I live in Lehi.  Got my first real job there six months ago.”

“Right on.  We live in Park City.  Moved there for the skiing and all the outdoor stuff in the summer.”

Everyone in front of Jared agreed that the skiing was amazing and everyone in Utah was very friendly.  The Italians had planned a Utah ski vacation during the holidays, something they did every year.

Behind Jared, the couple with the teenager shared that they were trying to get to a grandfather’s birthday party.  He was turning 90 and it was probably the last time he would have his entire family together.  The ugly-sweater couple was simply trying to get home after a pre-Christmas visit with their kids.

By 3 am, the line had moved 25 feet.  The story about the pilot getting on and off the Boston plane had been angrily retold five times.  Jared could see Kristi sitting on the floor, leaning against a wall on the other side of a luggage carousel.  Other stranded passengers laid on the angled metal plates of the stopped carousel to get off the cold concrete.  Jared also had a clear view of the four JetBlue employees behind the customer service counter.

“I wouldn’t want to be them,” said one of the young skiers in front of him.  “Working on Christmas morning.  Apologizing for everything.”

“We have to remember it’s not their fault,” one of the Italians added.  “It’s the company’s fault.  The CEO’s fault.  It’s the coward pilot’s fault who didn’t do his job.”

As the people in line decided who was and was not to blame, Jared felt an unexpected surge in adrenaline keeping him awake.  He laughed with the others about how they would demand first class tickets on their next flights.  They wanted a heartfelt apology from the pilot and to sleep in the nicest hotel in New York.

“And we want cash for our pain and suffering,” one of the Italians added.

By 4 am, people in line had discovered that a Dunkin Donuts in the airport was open.  Sleep deprivation mixed with coffee.  Those standing in line made feverish declarations about how special the people around them were.  The skiers and older couples raved about Jared’s beautiful wife and daughter and how unfair it was they were trapped in an airport.

Jared began to like the look of the beards and tattoos on the Gen Z skiers.  He did not mind the justified swearing when the Italians yelled about the pilot and how they should be home cooking ravioli.  Jared’s biggest worry became whether the family behind him could make it to their grandfather’s birthday.  A collection of airport wheelchairs was rounded up and added to the line.  Instead of standing or sitting on the floor, Jared and the others relaxed in the wheelchairs.

“If we had to be stuck here, I’m glad it was with people like you,” declared the Gen Z girl from Park City.  “I think everything happens for a reason.  JetBlue destroyed my faith in humanity and you guys restored it.”

“If they don’t have hotel rooms for all of us, we could rent a big Airbnb place together,” the Italian man suggested.

“We should come up with a name for ourselves,” his wife said.  “How about The Cancelled Club.”

Everyone loved the name for the group and laughed hysterically when she also suggested they get a copy of the soundtrack of Christmas songs incessantly playing over the airport’s sound system.  “We should play these songs for every future Christmas.”

Jared hummed the songs and rolled his wheelchair forward whenever there was a gap in the line.  He shared funny stories about other trips he had taken and laughed at the amazing experiences of his new friends.  Each time they heard the overhead announcement about reporting unsupervised luggage, they laughed out loud because of the piles of suitcases scattered everywhere around the luggage carousels.

As 5 am approached, The Cancelled Club was in the final section of the zigzag line.  “We should share our email addresses so we can keep in touch, especially when we’re in Utah,” one of the skiers suggested.  Jared freely shared his information and added new contacts to his phone.  Like the rest, he promised to stay connected and agreed that a higher power had brought them all together.

The group reviewed how they should confront the JetBlue employees when it was their turn.  They needed to control their tempers and remember it was not the fault of the people at the counter.  But they had to remain firm with their demands and not let the company get away with blaming the weather.

One by one, members of The Cancelled Club left the line for their chance to plead their case.  Those who remained called out “Good luck!” and “Keep in touch!”

When it was Jared’s turn, he realized he had been in line for four hours.  It was longer than any line wait he had ever experienced.  Although he was too far away to hear what the JetBlue people were telling customers, he was optimistic because of the support of his new friends.  He imagined being placed on another flight later that day, probably after catching some sleep at a hotel.  The airline would surely compensate him at least $1000 in cash.

Jared nervously approached the woman behind the counter and handed her his boarding passes for the missed flight.  “My family needs to get home as soon as possible,” he said pitifully.

The woman did not reply as she grabbed the boarding passes and typed furiously on her keyboard.  “Looks like the earliest available flight to Salt Lake is the evening of December 29th,” she said without emotion.

“What?  That’s more than four days from now.  There’s nothing earlier?  How about another airline?”

“We don’t do flight changes with other airlines.”

“What am I supposed to do?  Are you going to put us up in a hotel?”

“All the hotels we use around JFK are full.  You’d have to make your own arrangements.  I’m sorry for the inconvenience.”  Her standard apology had lost any sincerity hours earlier.

“So you’ll reimburse me if I find my own hotel?”

“Usually we give a $200 flight credit for something like this.”

“For four days stuck in New York?”

Standing next to Jared, the Italians lost their tempers and screamed at their JetBlue representative for deserved compensation.

As Jared slumped away holding a receipt for his Thursday flights, the JetBlue woman who helped him called out, “Merry Christmas.”  He walked past the baggage piles to find Kristi slouched over a carry-on bag with one arm on LeeAnn’s stroller.  He hesitated to wake her, but she seemed to sense him standing there.  “How long until our next flight?” Kristi asked in a sleepy voice.

“Only four days,” Jared replied sarcastically.  “We need to find a hotel.”

The family ended up at a Hampton Inn in Queens and watched a month’s worth of TV until December 29th.

By the end of Christmas Day, no one from the line was happy.  They never received an apology from the pilot, but they all survived and eventually reached Utah.  That morning was the first and last meeting of The Cancelled Club.  Whatever glue which promised to bond the members together forever, dissolved with the sunrise.  But who knows.  Maybe after some future cancelled flight, while standing in a long rebooking line, one of the members will turn to the contacts in their phone for some solace and empathy.  Thanks to JetBlue, they will always remember their Christmas in New York.

 

If you enjoyed the story, be sure to listen to the audio version or read others like it by visiting 500ironicstories.com


Submitted: January 21, 2023

© Copyright 2023 Aaron Hawkins. All rights reserved.

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